Thursday 20 October 2022

Cheshire Railways: Second Stop - Employee Records

Cheshire Railways: First Stop - The History is available here.

When the railways emerged in the nineteenth century there was very quickly a need for workers to build, repair, operate and make the railways run smoothly. Engineers such as Brunel designed the railways, but who were the people that kept the lines in operation?

In Ellesmere it was platelayers such as James Bagnall that inspected and maintained the lines, or in Birkenhead it was shunters such as Thomas Bayliss that took on the dangerous work of connecting and disconnecting engines. Porters such as Alfred Pryce Jones carried travellers’ luggage in Spital, and gatewoman E Alford operated the level crossing in Minsterley. There were many, many more jobs on the railways such as ticket collectors, signalmen, waiting room attendants, guards, foremen, lamp lads, breaksmen, station masters and many more besides.

All these jobs created records: staff registers, wages books, record cards, accident report books and workmen compensation books. It is rare that employee records survive in business collections because they were routinely destroyed when they were no longer needed by the company. Thankfully, in our NPR railway collection many have survived that contain priceless information on the people who worked on the railways such as James Bagnall, Thomas Bayliss, Alfred Pryce Jones and E Alford. The records are in no way complete and coverage is patchy, however, if you had an ancestor who worked on the railways then read on, we may well hold some of their records.

The history of the railways is one of company mergers and shared lines and therefore to find the records of your ancestors you need to know which railway company they worked for. They may have worked for two companies in the case of the London & North Western and Great Western Joint Railway. Each company also had many departments and job roles, so it is also useful to know the type of job your ancestor may have had. The staff registers that survive cover the following companies: London & North Western and Great Western Joint Railway, Cambrian Railways, London & North Western Railway, Great Western Railway, North Staffordshire Railway (latterly London Midland and Scottish Railway), Crewe Engineering Works and Earlestown Wagon Works.

These registers cover railway staff working over a large area including Cheshire, Shropshire, Herefordshire and nine counties in Wales. The information within them provides a summary of each railway employee’s career, the actual details varying slightly between one register and another. The registers were compiled from the late 1860s up to c1920 although many staff were in service earlier, some from the earliest years of the railway line itself (1840s).

In the case of the Cambrian and Great Western registers further details are provided of those staff who remained in service after 1920, usually restricted to wage or salary statements, and some of these extend into the 1950s era in British Rail days. Of the several railway departments the registers held here include employees in the coaching and traffic departments, those dealing with operations such as Porters, Signalmen and guards, and also salaried staff which include management and clerical workers such as Superintendents, Station Masters, booking and other Clerks. Among the other grades represented are Agents, Ticket Examiners, Left Luggage Office Staff, Van Drivers, Slip Boys (Horse Boys) and Weighing Machinemen. Seaman working on the River Mersey at Birkenhead - masters, mates and firemen - are featured, as well as waiting room attendants, gatekeepers and cleaners.

Two databases have been compiled as an index to these records. One covers the railway staff registers 1869-1950 and one covers the Crewe Railway Works c1890-1928. Other records not covered by the index can be searched on our online catalogue. Have a search and see what you can find - we may have a record of your ancestor that adds that crucial detail to your family history!

Look out for Third Stop - Railway Plans - coming soon!

All these records and more can be viewed at Cheshire Record Office in Chester.

Wednesday 12 October 2022

Cheshire Railways: First Stop - The History

On 22nd August 1890, Richard Jones started work as a Wheelwright at Crewe Engineering Works. His name, date of birth and first day of employment were recorded in one of the works' large registers along with the names of thousands of others who were employed at the works over the years. Over 130 years later that register and piece of history still survives, along with many more railway records available to be viewed at the Record Office in Chester. Over the last couple of years, staff and volunteers have been working hard to catalogue this huge collection to make it fully accessible so the story of Richard Jones and many others like him can be discovered.

The history of the railway in Cheshire starts in the first half of the nineteenth century when Chester attracted the interest of various railway companies. The Chester and Birkenhead and Chester and Crewe Railways were the first to open their respective routes in 1840. This was followed by the construction of the Chester and Holyhead Railways which fully opened in 1850. Many more companies and lines followed. By the time Richard Jones started work several of these companies had merged and many became part of London and North Western Railway. 

In 1923, under the Railways Act 1921, the majority of railway companies were grouped into four main companies. It was the London Midland and Scottish Railway and the Great Western Railway who between them covered the Cheshire area. In 1948, with the nationalisation of the railways, these companies became part of British Railways under the London Midland Region and Western Region.

In 1986 it was decided by British Railways that the important archive records that told the story of history of railway in Britain would be put into the care of County Record Offices. Determining which Record Offices to house them in wasn’t a simple decision. Railways don’t stop at county boundaries. It was decided that they would be deposited in areas appropriate to the British Rail Regions and of the big four companies that came into being following the grouping of 1923. It was also decided that records of companies absorbed before 1921 would be offered to the County Record Office receiving the records of the absorbing company.

Cheshire Record Office received records of the following companies: London and North Western Railway Company, Great Central and North Western Railways Joint Committee, London Midland and Scottish Railway Company - Central Administration, Western Division (North), Western Division (South), London Midland and Scottish and Great Western Railways Joint Committee. It therefore follows that the area covered by these records often exceeds the boundaries of the County of Cheshire.

Over the course of future blogs we will explore two of the main series of records in the collection; employee records and railway plans. These have great research potential for local and family historians in Cheshire and beyond.

Look our for the Second Stop of this blog - Employee Records - coming soon!

These records and more are available to view at Cheshire Record Office in Chester.